March 3, 2022, by aczjb1

Young Entrepreneurs Scheme: Life is all about people – connections really do matter!

This blog is written by Young Entrepreneurs Scheme Manager, Tracey Hassall-Jones.

The people in your network can really make a difference in helping you achieve your goals and ambitions and it’s never too early to start engaging and making those all-important connections. An African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” 

During the pandemic the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES), pivoted from a face-to-face model to delivering virtually. This was only made possible due to our incredible YES networks of alumni, industry stakeholders and advocates of the scheme – without their support and commitment it wouldn’t have happened – so thank you! This is a perfect illustration of how powerful your network can be in helping to solve problems, open doors and offer assistance. Our network has been crucial to our success and something we have nurtured for the 27 years the competition has been around. 

For those new to YES, taking part broadens understanding of the need for innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship skills in postgraduate science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) students. It also encourages networking in order to build long-term relationships both regionally, nationally and globally. 

For many, professional networking can be intimidating – even scary at times. How do you kick-off small talk with a complete stranger? I usually find you can find common ground – whether that’s through work, the weather, family, food, or football! My knowledge of Nottingham Forest, courtesy of my husband, has got me out of many awkward silences. For those who know me, I am not comfortable with silence! 

Don’t think of networking as about trying to find your next best friend – think of it as nurturing a professional relationship that will be mutually supportive. The benefits of a network are immense. A network can point you in the right direction whether that be sharing specialist knowledge to make you stand out from the crowd, giving you access to know-how that is hush-hush, early disclosure of job opportunities (a recommendation from a trusted source is priceless), one-off career advice or valuable mentoring as you progress up the ladder. 

Alicia Showering, PhD student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said “While COVID-19 was disrupting laboratory work we entered YES20 to gain an understanding of intellectual property, finance and pitching. YES20 gave us the opportunity to begin building our networks beyond academia. Since YES, I have stayed in contact with judges, mentors and fellow participants, while being introduced to others in their networks as I continue developing my idea. Through the YES alumni network I have had the opportunity to discuss a variety of career options outside academia and a potential internship for later this year. I can’t wait for a face-to-face event to further expand my networks!”

Networking is a skill, and like most skills it can be learned or improved. Over the past two years, the YES cohorts have networked with over 150 experts representing 70 organisations where the topic of conversation has probably been way outside their comfort zone. But by demonstrating a willingness to learn, making it a positive experience for all concerned and having some fun along the way who knows where these new connections will lead to next? 

Here are some top tips to make that knockout impression: 

  • Be prepared – practise your pitch, have a run through of your introduction, jot down potential questions. 
  • Look the part – leave your slippers at home or make sure they are out of sight! 
  • Don’t be late – especially if it’s online as you can’t blame the traffic. 
  • Test the tech – check the audio, camera and your background if any form of technology is involved. 
  • Engage in the conversation – turn off all devices so you don’t get distracted. 
  • Keep connected – follow-up on email or take advantage of your online presence. 
  • Pay it forward – remember one good turn deserves another. 

We are very much looking forward to hosting a face-to-face event in Nottingham on Monday 16 May for our YES20 and YES21 cohorts to create further connections. For those joining us remember you’ve jumped over the first hurdle – when you walk into that room you all have a shared experience to kick-off that small talk! 

For those interested in getting involved in YES22, register your interest to be kept in the loop about our autumn programme. Don’t limit yourself to your long-established networking circles. 

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